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English-Vietnamese Translation of American Elections

THIS ARTICLE DESCRIBES current issues that arise for the Vietnamese translator stemming from the difference between
Vietnamese as used in Vietnam (which I will call “domestic Vietnamese”) and Vietnamese as used in Vietnamese-speaking
communities in Western nations (which I will call “overseas Vietnamese”). This 1st part describes in detail the differences in vocabulary and accent between these two variants, relevant political issues.

American elections hold frequently and almost continuously from the lowest levels at districts and state to the federal government. As the U.S itself is a democratic nation, these elections play an important role in the U.S culture in specific and in the globe in general due to the power of the country.

Vietnamese Americans (VietnameseNgười Mỹ gốc Việt) make up about half of all overseas Vietnamese (VietnameseNgười Việt hải ngoại) and are the fourth-largest Asian American ethnic group after Chinese AmericansFilipino Americans, and Indian Americans (Freeman, 2009). The Vietnamese community in the United States was minimal until South Vietnamese immigration to the country following the Vietnam War which ended in 1975. More than half of Vietnamese Americans reside in the two most populous states of California and Texas, primarily their large urban areas (Southeast Asian Americans State Populations 2010 U.S. Census, 2014).

The above geopolitical features had made the requirements for translations of information on the elections in specific and in many other state and federal governments' information, announcements and orders, in general, become crucial and essential for the Vietnamese communities in the U.S. However, it had never been as easy as it is to translate texts from English to Vietnamese (overseas variant) or vice versa. As a result of the post-Vietnam War emigration mentioned above, significant political, cultural, and linguistic divisions have developed between the Vietnamese population in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and those living outside Vietnam in what I will refer to as the diaspora.

From translation and proofreading issues...
Several debates currently exist among English<>Vietnamese translators about quality and understandability in translation and proofreading, ranging from the friendliest to the most aggressive controversies with deeply embedded political implications. These issues involve differences in translation as practiced by language service providers in Vietnam and those living in the diaspora. Unlike the minor differences in accent and vocabulary among Vietnamese used in different English-speaking countries, there are significant differences in word use and style between Vietnamese as currently spoken in Vietnam and Vietnamese in the diaspora. Here are some examples:

Differences in vocabulary

English

Domestic Vietnamese

Overseas Vietnamese

The White House

Nhà Trắng

Tòa Bạch Ốc (quite similar to Chinese Báigōng in pronunciation)

Canada

Canada

Gia Nã Đại (quite similar to Chinese Jiānádà in pronunciation and word use)

Year

Năm

Năm/Niên (quite similar to Chinese Nián in pronunciation)

School (District)

Trường học

Khu học chánh/Học khu/Trường học (A bit similar to Chinese Xuéqū in pronunciation)

Absent

Vắng mặt

Khiếm diện (khiếm: Sino-Vietnamese: lack of, diện: face)

Account clerk

Nhân viên giúp việc kế toán

Trương mục

Acting (e.g., acting director)

Phụ trách/ quyền

Thừa hành

Aging/Old

Già/lão

Cao niên (cao: Gāo in Chinese (tall, high, long), niên: Nián)

Agriculture

Nông nghiệp

Canh nông

Aircraft

Máy bay

Phi cơ (phi: jump, fly, 機, cơ: large place, 場)

Airport

Sân bay

Phi trường

Amendment

Bản sửa đổi

Tu chính (chánh)

Public works

Công trình công cộng

Công chánh

Approve

Phê duyệt

Phê chuẩn

Office clerk

Thư ký văn phòng

Lục sự phòng

 

Differences in accent

There are some slight differences in domestic Vietnamese and overseas Vietnamese in terms of accent, most commonly between the word Chính – Chánh (in “Administration” (chính quyền)) (same word but with slightly different pronunciation).

Administration: Chính quyền  – Chánh quyền

Amendment: Tu chínhTu chánh

Administrator: Quản lý hành chínhQuản lý hành chánh

 

Political issues

Among the factors that brought about the changes just described, non-linguistic political elements have become the most problematic. Frequently, English <-> Vietnamese translators who use domestic Vietnamese are heavily criticized by those who use overseas Vietnamese as the norm. Past political events and opposing positions regarding the current Vietnamese government and ruling party significantly contributed to the controversy as well. Reviewers who use overseas Vietnamese criticize domestic Vietnamese language translators for “using communist-style wording” and require the use of their own Vietnamese, which they believe to be the only correct form.

What follows is a typical example of “communist-style wording.” Based on my experience and discussions with those who have been criticized, a common word literally translated to “government official” in domestic Vietnamese style (cán bộ), instead of overseas Vietnamese style (nhân viên chính phủ, “government employees”) by domestic English <-> Vietnamese translators provides a good case study. First, “government official” in domestic Vietnamese style has a slightly different meaning; it refers to a government employee with unlimited-time payroll (i.e., a government employee, usually with communist party membership, who will not be fired due to performance reasons). As this is a unique product of communist countries, there is no equivalent in overseas Vietnamese, and Vietnamese translators in the diaspora often feel uncomfortable with this term. Since they are in favor of the Western/U.S system, they will use nhân viên chánh phủ for government employee.

However, cán bộ is usually a government employee with communist party membership and is implicitly more powerful than a normal government employee. Thus, using nhân viên chánh phủ for a government official in current-day Vietnam would be inappropriate to the sense. From this perspective, linguistically, if a document to be translated refers to government employees, it is reasonable to use cán bộ, whereas it is certainly proper to change it to nhân viên (“staff”) if the document is referring to a private company or organization.

Many domestic Vietnamese language translators (and users) born after 1975 learned this term in early childhood and thus use it naturally without awareness of its variant in overseas Vietnamese (nhân viên chính phủ) or the sensitive political issues surrounding it. It is thus unreasonable to criticize them for translating incorrectly, improperly, or in particular, “in communist wording and style.”

To conclude this part of the discussion, both sides should learn more about each other’s variant, style, wording, and culture and should have a more neutral and friendly attitude when commenting and suggesting alternatives. For domestic Vietnamese language translators (and users), it is advisable to inform their potential clients whether they are familiar with the wording of overseas Vietnamese language and taboos (communist-related affairs); this should avoid undesirable negative criticism and political discussions. For those overseas Vietnamese language translators who found ways out of Vietnam to escape what they do not believe in and are living currently in the diaspora, the author hopes that they can read this article with goodwill and an open mind. Many domestic translators have told me that they have never intended to make fun of the tragedy of Vietnamese refugees and they have no interest in politics, especially who is right or wrong about the Vietnam War, at least while translating documents. These ordinary citizens of Vietnam are only trying to earn additional income by providing translation and related services. If you as an editor find that a translator needs to adjust their translation because they do not know the overseas Vietnamese variant, please avoid subjective comments such as “communist wording.”

(To be continued ...)

  1.  James M. Freeman. Vietnamese Americans. Microsoft Encarta Online. Encyclopedia 2008. Archived from the original on 2009-04-04. Retrieved 2009-02-07.
  2. "Southeast Asian Americans State Populations 2010 U.S. Census". Retrieved 2014-01-02.
Relative news

Although Olvera-Lobo et al. (2005) found that the volume of documents needed to be translated for cross-national purposes has multiplied manifold globally, including Vietnam, there is no research on the extent of professionalization of the translator in this market until now. This study thus aims at giving a comprehensive overview on the status of the translation profession in Vietnam by analyzing documentary and empirical data and to indicate the degree of professionalization of this profession in Vietnam. While the findings showed academic attempts to enhance the professionalization of this profession in Vietnam, legal instruments’ analysis indicated the lack of official development evidence, especially in the full-time freelancing type. Via empirical survey and interview data, gaps between university translation degree and the real industry were also pointed out. Implications are then given out for the pedagogical purpose.

After describing in detail the differences in vocabulary and accent between these two variants in the 1st part, I discuss the relevant political issues and how these affect translation, proofreading, and international certification in the English <-> Vietnamese language pair. To conclude, I propose a variety of solutions to the problems.

Although Olvera-Lobo et al. (2005) found that the volume of documents needed to be translated for cross-national purposes has multiplied manifold globally, including Vietnam, there is no research on the extent of professionalization of the translator in this market until now. This study thus aims at giving a comprehensive overview on the status of the translation profession in Vietnam by analyzing documentary and empirical data and to indicate the degree of professionalization of this profession in Vietnam. While the findings showed academic attempts to enhance the professionalization of this profession in Vietnam, legal instruments’ analysis indicated the lack of official development evidence, especially in the full-time freelancing type. Via empirical survey and interview data, gaps between university translation degree and the real industry were also pointed out. Implications are then given out for the pedagogical purpose.

THIS ARTICLE DESCRIBES current issues that arise for the Vietnamese translator stemming from the difference between
Vietnamese as used in Vietnam (which I will call “domestic Vietnamese”) and Vietnamese as used in Vietnamese-speaking
communities in Western nations (which I will call “overseas Vietnamese”). This 1st part describes in detail the differences in vocabulary and accent between these two variants, relevant political issues.